By Ben Pensant
Much has changed in my day-to-day life since abandoning the white working-class and joining the white liberal elite. I’ve bought a bike, watched An Inconvenient Truth and swapped hobbies such as whippet-breeding and wife-battery for reading The New Statesman and pretending to care about refugees. (Not enough to put one up in my spare room, mind. There are plenty of council estates for that.) But by far the biggest change has been my decision to abandon vacuous pursuits like Tinder and TOWIE to focus on the big issues that actually matter. Such as children’s T-shirts with Einstein’s fucking face on the front.
Yes, you heard that right. And I apologise to anyone who just had traumatic memories of the wild-haired German physicist triggered by such a hateful concept as a T-shirt with his fucking face on the front. But that’s the way it is and I urge anyone of a sensitive disposition to go and find the nearest Safe Space: it’s about to get micro-aggressive in here. Because while I was busy writing about Brexit and the Labour Party little did I know this disturbing alliance of science and leisure wear was taking place. And it’s destined to have far greater consequences than the UK leaving an unaccountable neo-liberal bureaucracy or re-electing a fossilised Rick out of The Young Ones as leader of the opposition.
Not since finding out Thomas The Tank Engine & Friends was the most dangerous piece of racist propaganda since The Birth Of A Nation have I been so shocked by a Guardian article. But kudos to Chitra Ramaswamy for having the bravery to expose this grim development. In ‘How a sexist T-shirt harms us all’ she tackled the hot topic of gendered clothing, chiefly Gap’s problematic new range of kids’ clobber which includes a ‘Social Butterfly’ jumper for girls with a large pink ‘G’ emblazoned across it and a ‘Little Scholar’ one for boys with Einstein’s fucking face on the front. The fact that these ignorant jerks didn’t even bother with a transgender one speaks volumes. It’s not like it would have been difficult to come up with a design: a defiantly neutral yellow sweater, a random gender fluid icon on the front and a huge sparkly ‘XE’ on the back would have done the job. For the icon they could have gone for John Inman dressed as Widow Twankey and called it ‘Non-Binary Dressmaker’. The transgender community would welcome this respectful gesture but more importantly it would give us brave SJWs who get offended on their behalf another excuse to act smug on the internet. But no, a purely tokenistic move to placate the self-appointed representatives of roughly 1% of the population who never asked for their help in the first place is apparently too much effort for the cis-gendered slags at Team Gap.
Chitra’s fear is the assumption that boys are more intelligent than girls will continue to discourage the latter from pursuing interests in male-dominated fields: ‘Oh well’ she writes. ‘Her chambray shirt (with pink logo obviously) may not fast-track her into a science, technology, engineering and maths subject but it will be “the talk of the playground”. And what more could a girl want?’. Indeed, as I recall from my high school days, ‘talk of the playground’ is a sobriquet no young lady wants, as the amateur entrepreneur with cold-sores who got caught behind B-block exchanging special treats for tabs and Space Raiders would no doubt agree. Well, I imagine she would – I like to think the subsequent taunting and bullying she received led to years of drug-abuse, prostitution, suicide attempts and eventual incarceration for kidnapping her five illegitimate children from social services and drowning them in an oil drum. Not because she deserved such a harrowing fate but because one more victim narrative is always welcome in the world of the regressive left, especially if we can blame it on society or the patriarchy or something. Also, as a white male cis-gendered Leave-voter anything that makes me feel even more guilty is always welcome. And as she stares at the ceiling of her white cell I hope she harbours thoughts of revenge towards me for not coughing up the two Lamberts I owed her. Then scarpering when Mr Dungworth came around the corner just as Barry ‘Digger’ Barnes spunked all over her ski jacket.
But who could deny that such sad tales are a direct result of gendered clothing (or their ’80s and ’90s equivalent, his-and-hers shell-suits)? Perhaps the path to self-destruction began that Christmas morning her parents gave her a My Little Pony nighty as her younger brother stomped around in Spiderman pyjamas, aping the privileged white misogynist he would one day become by shouting, throwing cushions and playing guitar with his willy.
And the impact these T-shirts with Einstein’s fucking face on the front will have on learning can’t be underestimated. Though academic development is something the patriarchy has already done its best to hamper, as evidenced by the fact that girls have been out-performing boys at school and university for decades. Because as we all know, the modern child has no time for silly things like bikes, sweets and having fun: they’re fully-formed little Naomi Klein-reading adults who wake up in the middle of the night agonising over ice-caps and intersectionality. Well, the ones brought up by Guardian journalists are anyway.
As Chitra writes: ‘Watch any TV advert aimed at children and you will see girls in shiny princess outfits emoting into microphones and boys dutifully pushing fire engines’. Because the last thing a child needs is to be told it’s okay to enjoy whatever toys they happen to like. But as we all know, they don’t just happen to like these toys: they’ve been conditioned to believe they should like them because of the sex were assigned at birth by right-wing doctors. And these poor kids don’t know any better, despite the fact that middle-class liberals like to think kids are responsible little adults with deep anxieties about fair trade, as opposed to weird little sociopaths with deep anxieties about where their next ice cream is coming from. From birth they’ve been brainwashed by a patriarchal society into believing they should wear gendered colours and play with toys they like. We can only reverse this by brainwashing them into believing they should wear non-gendered colours and play with toys that we like.
‘Go to the children’s section of any clothes shop and you will encounter primary-coloured stripes for boys and pastel polka dots for girls. We are living in an age where even shapes are gendered’ laments Chitra. And she’s entirely correct, as anyone who spent the years following their first stolen glimpse of a lady bush giggling every time they saw a triangle will agree. But the serious issue of unscrupulous companies having the gall to cynically design clothes to appeal to particular demographics is one that will only be defeated when the likes of Gap forget about all that market research mumbo jumbo and start manufacturing clothes that value PC over profit. Just because a girls’ dressing gown emblazoned with trains and footballs would shift roughly the same units as a Princess Leia costume for boys is no reason not to stick two fingers up at capitalism and mass-produce a line of clothing no sod wants to buy.
But Chitra’s here to tell this dangerous company that disparate groups of people – from Guardian journalists to Independent readers – are simply not gonna take it any more: ‘The Gap ad designates boys as brainy and girls as sociable – gender stereotypes that have been around longer than pink Lego. And people are fed up with it’. By ‘people’ she means the small percentage of the population who believe Hamley’s abandoning their gender-specific pink and blue signs will reduce domestic violence. But fed up they certainly are, and it’s clear Chitra is so fed up of this T-shirt with Einstein’s fucking face on it she doesn’t even mention the two other two ‘looks’ featured in the advert, ‘Adventurer Girl’ and ‘Comedian Boy’. Clearly Chitra was too traumatised by the way they reinforced the stereotypes that men are funny and women have a habit of wandering off to mention them. It couldn’t possibly be because they didn’t fit in with her narrative that Gap are determined to keep women down by encouraging them to forgo science and technology and stick to stroking bunnies and baking fairy-cakes. She’s far too even-handed for that, as demonstrated when she admonishes herself for deploying gender stereotypes about her son:
‘Sometimes I’m the one dishing it out, such as when I find myself saying he is “such a boy” because he loves trains, hates arts and crafts and can’t sit still for a second’ she muses, before putting the blame for her son’s perfectly normal behaviour squarely where it belongs: ‘None of it makes him “such a boy”: we have society to thank for that’. Indeed we do, and due to ‘the insidious nature of gender stereotyping’ we also have the horrific spectre of kids wearing clothes that they like and feel comfortable in rather than ones that make their middle-class parents feel morally superior.
And there’s nothing more morally superior than sticking two fingers up at society and buying your son a toy pushchair to help him learn to walk. As Chitra explains, she ended up deciding against this as the sexist female shop assistant put her off. Fortunately her son learnt to walk perfectly fine without being forced to play with a toy he’d rather set ahad than push around in the name of diversity. But as she notes, we live in ‘a world in which dads push them around all the time, seemingly without shame’ yet repressed men are too embarrassed to let their sons do the same. ‘See what I mean about sexism being everywhere?’ she rages, brilliantly putting this sorry state of affairs down to prejudice rather than the fact that most little boys would sooner confess to the headmaster it was them who pumped during assembly than be seen pushing a girly buggy around. But for this we have society to blame. And while it’s perfectly fine to allow four year old boys to decide they want to wear dresses and identify as girls it’s categorically not okay to let them decide which toys they want to play with.
Predictably, Tory trolls and knuckle-headed Sun-readers tend to view these common sense measures as middle-class trivialities, paling into insignificance compared to the fact that, as Chitra states, ‘two women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner’. Or they evade the issue by pointing out people would have a lot more respect for modern feminists if they devoted as much attention to issues such as FGM and forced marriages as they do to the foul misogyny of doctor’s costumes and T-shirts with Einstein’s fucking face on the front. But Chitra has a stinging rebuke for such Islamophobic whataboutery: ‘The point is that all of it matters and all of it is connected. Whether gender stereotyping takes place in an email, on a T-shirt, in a toy shop or at a school, the effects are serious for all of us’. Privileged males will wince at the suggestion a T-shirt for kids with Einstein’s fucking face on the front has any connection whatsoever to men who beat their girlfriends to death. But that’s probably because they’re privileged males who secretly want to beat their girlfriends to death. Trust me, back when I was a privileged male I used to regularly daydream about murdering my girlfriend, Tina from ‘Corrie and the entire cast of Loose Women. Would I have harboured such dark thoughts if my mam hadn’t forced her 7 year old son to wear those A-fronts with Mr T’s fucking face on the crotch? I think we all know the answer to that.
Ominously, Chitra continues the dark theme and leaves her most prophetic point until last with this chilling sign off: ‘After all, each of us should grow with the possibility of becoming a scientist, a social butterfly, neither or both’. The fact that this possibility is being denied to children all over the world – even those whose interest in science begins and ends with wondering if Reed Richards could wrap his cock around a lamp-post – is a stain upon Western civilisation. And most offensively it is all because some transphobic misogynist thought it would be a good idea to design a T-shirt for boys with Einstein’s fucking face on the front.
But the sad fact is, despite the rage of Chitra’s piece the only people who seemed to notice were those white privileged males below-the-line who took the piss out of it. As she wrote, gender stereotyping is harmful ‘not only to boys and girls but to women, men and every gender in between’. Quite how a T-shirt with Einstein’s fucking face on the front harms a pensioner from Birmingham or a disabled war veteran isn’t made clear but that doesn’t matter. If they’re too selfishly wrapped up in playing Bingo and not walking to notice the damage done by a T-shirt with Einstein’s fucking face on the front then they’re welcome to their ignorance. And the uncomfortable truth that the social media outrage lasted a measly few days before the SJWs moved on to wishing death upon Clint Eastwood is a travesty.
But a wholly unsurprising one. Until I was mugged by reality the day after the EU Referendum I would have given Chitra’s story short shrift too: I was the type of deluded Neo-Con who dismissed pieces like this as ‘PC gone mad’. But in the immortal words of Stewart Lee, ‘PC hasn’t gone mad: it’s perfectly fine where it is’. And who better to look to for moral guidance than a comedian so comfortable with his intellectual superiority he proudly disregards such generic concepts as jokes and punchlines?
So perhaps we shouldn’t get too downbeat about the lack of interest in this appalling story. The fact that Guardian writers are brilliant enough to write about it, Guardian readers are brilliant enough to read about it and other Guardian readers are brilliant enough to write 2,000 words about how brilliant Guardian writers are for writing about it proves categorically that when you’re as brilliant as we are it doesn’t matter that the rest of the world couldn’t give two shits. And even if Gap stopped making their misogynist T-shirt with Einstein’s fucking face on the front they would only think of something else to stealthily turn little boys into gun-wielding astronaut-cum-CEOs while little girls are prepped for a future working in petting zoos and smelly soap shops. This may be at odds with data showing that on average girls receive better school grades than boys, take up more places in higher education and have just as many opportunities to forge successful careers and earn money in the Western world as any other autonomous human being. But as utopian as that sounds the house of cards collapses as soon as women are forced to have babies and take time off work by the bastardly patriarchy.
For now, let’s just console ourselves that while dumb working-class proles may be prime fodder for Gap to brainwash into believing women are only good for looking pretty, the regressive left are a much harder ethically sourced nut to crack. If you want to turn us bedsit militants into unthinking drones it’ll take more than a Barbie umbrella for girls or a boys’ bobble hat shaped like Galileo’s fucking beard.
Because yes, we DO mind the gap.